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South Australia v Commonwealth ("the First Uniform Tax case")[1] is a decision of the High Court of Australia that established the Commonwealth government's ability to impose a scheme of uniform income tax across the country and displace the State. It was a major contributor to Australia's vertical fiscal imbalance in the spending requirements and taxing abilities of the various levels of government, and was thus a watershed moment in the development of federalism in Australia.

Facts

The High Court held the laws were valid, despite the practical result being the inability of the states to impose income tax.

The Income Tax Act 1942,[2] was held to be valid despite the fact the rate was so high as to preclude the states from imposing income tax. As taxation is a non-purposive power, regardless of the object of the law, the subject matter was taxation, and hence valid under section 51(ii) of the Constitution.

The States Grants Act 1942,[3] was held to be valid, despite its coercive effect. The Commonwealth can use the section 96 grants powe

The High Court held the laws were valid, despite the practical result being the inability of the states to impose income tax.

The Income Tax Act 1942,[2] was held to be valid despite the fact the rate was so high as to preclude the states from imposing income tax. As taxation is a [2] was held to be valid despite the fact the rate was so high as to preclude the states from imposing income tax. As taxation is a non-purposive power, regardless of the object of the law, the subject matter was taxation, and hence valid under section 51(ii) of the Constitution.

The States Grants Act 1942,[3] was held to be valid, despite its coercive effect. The Commonwealth can use the section 96 grants power to induce a state to exercise its own powers as well as abstain from using its powers. Hence the Commonwealth can do such things to encourage or discourage a state from exercising its powers, which are technically not coercion. Indirect compulsion is constitutional. While the Act made it almost impossible for the States to continue taxing, Chief Justice John Latham noted that the states still had the choice not to accept Commonwealth grants. Justice Edward McTiernan also considered the Act valid under the defence power.

Section 221 of the Income Assessment Act 1942,[4] was held to be valid pursuant to section 51(ii) or was at the least valid under the implied incidental power. The subject matter of the law and the purpose of the law were both with respect to matters of taxation. McTiernan justified this section as valid under the defence power.

The Income Tax (Wartime Arrangements) Act 1942,[5] was upheld by a majority under the defence power.

The decision in relation to section 221 of the Income Assessment Act 1942 was subsequently overturned by the High Court in the Second Uniform Tax case.[6]

See also

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